It is estimated that almost 70% of Americans enjoy playing video games. And 90% of those take their gaming devices with them wherever they go, meaning that they play games not only on a gaming platform but on their smartphones too. Though video gaming has many benefits and can be fun for many, there is a darker side: video game addiction.

Results from a recent report released by Limelight Networks shared some interesting, if not startling, statistics.

  • Just in the last year, video gamers have increased their average playing time by almost 20%.
  • Most gamers spend an average of just over seven hours per week playing video games. Gamers between the ages of 26 to 25 play over eight hours per week.
  • Most gamers prefer playing single-player games that do not involve others.
  • Gamers between the ages of 18 to 25 spend 77% more time watching other people playing games online than they do watching broadcast sports.
  • 36% of gamers would resign from their jobs if they could make a living financially as professional video gamers. And to that end, more than 57% of male gamers aged 18 to 25 want to become professional gamers.
  • More than half of gamers have stayed up late or through the night to game, rather than catching precious and much-needed sleep. And, over a third of gamers have missed a meal because of video gaming.
  • More than 35% of employed gamers play video games while at work at least one time per month.

The popularity of video gaming

The previously mentioned statistics are staggering and alarming. What is it about these games that are so popular for players that they would actually miss a night’s sleep or a meal? And, what is it about these games that make someone want to game while at work, potentially threatening their livelihood?

One of the biggest reasons that video games are so popular is that they provide the chance to escape. Though video gaming is popular amongst academics and non-academics, and athletes and non-athletes, there is something that draws these people in that they do not want to let go. Today’s games are created with such stunning detail that it creates a false sense of reality in a virtual world. Within these virtual worlds, gamers can do things that they can’t do in real life.

Within the video game, a non-athlete can play a winning game of tennis or can ski through the mountains at incredible speeds. An academic who hasn’t taken the time to travel can see the world, and feel like he or she is really there, without leaving their couch. You can be part of a drug bust, or you can even deal the drugs, even though in the real world you may have never experimented with illegal substances and may never plan to. You can kill a perceived thug, without harming a fly. Video games allow players to be just about anyone that they can imagine, without really doing anything at all. For these reasons, gaming has become much more than just a pastime. Gaming has become an addiction, and the rate of addiction is rising at an alarming rate.

The rise of gaming addiction

The video game industry is growing at an incredibly fast pace. Just 20 years ago, the gaming industry generated just over $7 billion in revenue. In 2018, gaming revenue was over $130 billion. And it is estimated that by 2025, the gaming industry could reach $400 billion. Further, the accessibility of video games is on the rise due to ongoing advancements in technology. Players can play their favorite video games on their televisions, mobile devices, laptops, and even some e-readers. This accessibility has allowed the video gaming industry to pervade our lifestyles.

To that end, and as the industry has continued to grow, much research has been conducted in recent years to understand further why video games are so addictive. Aside from the chance to escape reality as outlined above, additional reasons behind the addiction are that games are challenging enough to keep people interested, but no so challenging as to push the players away. Similar to gambling, it isn’t too hard to push the button or pull the handle on a slot machine. And at some point, you know that the bonus is going to give in, or the symbols will match up on a pay line. And you’ll win. And because it happened once, it is easy to assume it will happen again. So the player just keeps on playing.

With video games, the same concept holds true. Players are lured in by that challenge, even though many games don’t have a goal or a definitive end. In fact, it is that entire idea that the game can be played indefinitely with periodic wins here and there that makes them keep on going. Knowing that some form of reward will come at some point in the future and that they will be able to reach the next level simply leads to an extension of overall playing time.

Now, the risk of addiction has worsened. Before connected gameplay that allows players to connect with others online, ultimately playing the game together, gamers were more likely to pause games to interact with family and friends. But now, that connection can happen directly through the game. Players can be communicating with their friends and playing ‘together’ even though they are all sitting in different rooms in different houses, sometimes even in different parts of the country.

Recognizing video game addiction in your teen

There are a variety of emotional and physical warning signs that can be indicative of a video game addiction. Though video gaming addiction occurs with people of all ages, teens, in particular, can become consumed with thoughts about playing and demonstrate signs of impatience and irritation when they can’t get back to their game fast enough, or when a schedule change occurs, and they can’t play at all.

Parents should be on the lookout for signs of dishonesty in their teen as to how much time they are spending playing video games. And in addition to these behavioral indicators, there are several physical symptoms as well:

  • Fatigue or excessive weariness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Complaints of headaches or migraines
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene

Video game addiction has harmful effects on teenagers

Video game addiction is fraught with both short- and long-term effects, including disruptions to sleep habits, which leads to fatigue or excessive weariness. In turn, this lack of sleep can have injurious effects on academic performance and the ability to hold a job. On an even more serious level, a lack of sleep can be very dangerous for teens who have their driver’s license and might be on the road, especially after a long night of gaming and a full day of school.

On top of the sleep issues, teens may experience a disruption to their eating habits. This may include skipping a meal, eating poorly by grabbing the first thing in the refrigerator or cupboard instead of ensuring a more balanced approach to their meal, and excessive hunger.

In addition to troubles with sleep and nutrition, video games, even though they may connect players online, have severe consequences on a teen’s ability to develop and maintain real and authentic relationships with others.  Teens often isolate themselves while gaming, shutting away the real world while they escape into the virtual world.

Risk of seizure is also a concern as many games include flashing imagery and fast-moving characters. For some teens, a lack of neuronal control can cause nerve activity to sync up, which can ultimately result in a seizure. The repetitive stimuli in certain games, along with the pulsing lights and flashes, can lead to photo-sensitive seizures. This said it is important to clarify that despite some beliefs that video games can lead to epilepsy, this is not the case. While epilepsy is associated with seizures, it is not true that video games cause epilepsy.

Video game addiction and co-occurring disorders

Excessive video gameplay can be associated with a variety of other disorders. In some cases, it is difficult to ascertain if the video game addiction came before or after the other disorder. The challenge with video gameplay and these other disorders is that the ability to escape the real world is often something that teens with other disorders such as depression and anxiety will turn to for that escape. This said it is important to understand the correlation with other disorders.

  • Teens may turn to video games as a coping strategy when they are already feeling depressed or anxious. These games allow depressed teens to isolate themselves further and escape from their stressors through video games.
  • Those with anxiety may also turn to games as it provides them an opportunity to be good at something when other things in their life feel out of control. The quick wins that come from the games can fill a perceived void and may keep the teen coming back for more.
  • Further, video gaming allows those with social anxiety to feel like they are making a connection with others without the requirement of physical or in-person interaction. As teens become more comfortable interacting with other gamers online, their adversity to real-life interactions tends to increase. This means further isolation and an increase in gaming.
  • Video gaming is an excellent match (and not in a good way) for those with ADHD. The competing priorities in the video game actually serves those with ADHD quite well as they are able to shift their attention from one thing to another quickly. Teens living with ADHD may also find themselves playing excessively because they are hyper-focused on the game and have lost track of time.
  • The connection between autism and video game addiction indicates that those with autism may become more involved than ideal due to the repetitive behaviors that are frequent in video gameplay. This can result in further inattentiveness and obsessive behaviors.

Therapy | Video Game Addiction | Hillcrest

Treatment for teen video game addiction

If your teen is demonstrating signs of video game addiction and you are concerned that it is impacting their overall wellbeing, it may be time to look for treatment options. Treatment can be beneficial in helping your teen to overcome their addiction, especially if they are demonstrating the above behaviors and those listed below:

  • Thinking about and talking about video games exhaustively
  • An exorbitant amount of time wasted and spent playing video games
  • Poor academic performance or a decline in academic performance
  • Poor handwriting or poor work on school projects
  • Loss of concentration
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Less interest in outdoor activities or sports where there may have been a previous interest
  • Frequent financial investment for purchasing games and gaming equipment
  • Anxiety or depression

Though video game addiction isn’t like substance abuse or other addictions that involve illegal behaviors or physical dependencies, it is indeed a true addiction that warrants assistance. Those with video game addiction can find themselves unable to cope with everyday requirements of life. And, too much time spent video gaming, in extreme cases, can result in an inability to separate the virtual world from the real one.

Those with video game addiction require diagnosis and treatment from a licensed, residential mental health facility that is experienced in helping others that have been down the same path.  Treatment centers such as Hillcrest provide an array of creative and timely therapeutic, experiential, and clinical evidence-based treatment options in a natural and peaceful environment. Treatment is designed to heal both the mind and the body and provides teens with an opportunity to stay current on their schoolwork while undergoing the phases of treatment.

Video game addiction can not necessarily be ‘cured,’ and those undergoing treatment should only do so with a licensed healthcare professional that is well versed in this unique form of addiction. With the right amount of time and the right level of care, your teen can learn the strategies to overcome their addiction and to start interacting with the real world again.

Is your teen struggling with video game addiction? Are their grades and social life sliding downhill as a result of endless Overwatch matches or marathon gaming sessions with online friends? You have options. Hillcrest can help. Reach out today in order to find out how our facility can help your teen break free from video game addiction.